Learning to DJ: What music format should you use?

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So you want to be a DJ. Congratulations! DJing is a fun hobby and, if you get good at it and work hard, can be a great way to make money, too. But which format should you DJ in? Should you DJ with vinyl records, CDs or digital formats? Each option has both advantages and disadvantages. We’ve collected them below to help you make an informed decision.

Digital formats

Being a software DJ has the obvious advantage of allowing you to travel light. All you need is a controller and a laptop with some software and a collection of MP3s and you’re good to go. Compare that to the hassle of lugging a heavy record bag or hundreds of CDs with you everywhere. While a quality controller and legal DJing software will set you back a fair amount of money, digital downloads are cheap and plentiful and a hard drive can contain thousands of songs without breaking your back. You can easily backup your tunes and not worry about issues such as scratched records or damaged CDs.

On the other hand, laptops can be temperamental. They can overheat in a hot club, randomly crash or freeze and cause all kinds of problems. Investing in a good, stable laptop is not going to be cheap and if things go wrong, you’re out of action. Compare that to the ease of changing a single scratched record in the middle of a set!

Another disadvantage of being a digital DJ is that everyone is doing it. It’s harder to stand out when there are hundreds of DJs doing the same thing as you. You’ll need to work very hard to compete with existing, well-established DJs if you want to get anywhere in the industry. Software DJs used to be looked down upon, too, because this style of DJing is so accessible. Luckily, this is now changing as more and more DJs opt for this more convenient way of working, but you may still encounter attitude in some places if you choose this style

DJing with CDs

Do you have a large selection of CDs you want to use while DJing? This is probably the only reason why you might want to DJ with CDs and even then, you’re better off digitising your CDs and going digital. While some venues still offer this option, this is mostly aimed at existing DJs who’ve been using CDs for years and don’t want to make the change to digital. CDs are now practically obsolete and, at least for now, lack both the retro appeal of vinyl and the convenience of digital formats. Maybe one day in the future CDs will be considered a curiosity and those DJs using them will have some sort of cult status. That day, though, is still in the future and may never come at all. CDs were always considered somewhat inferior to vinyl in terms of the sound they produce and the novelty of mixing with them is long gone. If you’re serious about becoming a DJ, it’s probably best to avoid this medium.

DJing with vinyl records

Using vinyl records for your DJ set has obvious disadvantages. Records are heavy, fragile and often expensive. Mixing records is a lot harder than using software, too. But that’s exactly what makes vinyl DJs so in-demand. Apart from the extra showmanship this style affords, many people believe records have a warmer, richer sound than CDs or digital formats. Played on a quality sound system, this can make a real difference to music aficionados and can mean you get more bookings. If you’re ready for a challenge and want to stand out among software DJs, you’ll need to start with quality turntables before anything else (check out Vinyl Vintage for some interesting reviews). Then, of course, you’ll need to start building your record collection. The good news is that more and more DJs are making the change from vinyl to digital, so you should be able to pick up whole collections of quality vinyl at reasonable prices. Try either charity stores, used record stores or online auctions for the best deals. But if so many DJs are abandoning vinyl, should you be getting into it? Depends on who you ask, of course. While older DJs are discovering the joy of digital, younger ones are embracing the vintage sounds of records, as well as the skill mixing them involves.